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New Enlarged Edition

HOW TO BUILD A SIX-FIGURE


PIANO TUNING AND REPAIR BUSINESS

A SUGGESTED STRATEGY FOR THE


INDEPENDENT PIANO TECHNICIAN IN THE FIELD

BY

BOB WIDDING

PIANO TECHNICIAN

How a one person operation grew into a


successful piano tuning and repair business
Copyright © 2011 by Robert K. Widding and Mary J. Widding.

All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means,
electronic or mechanical, including internet, web site, photocopying, faxing, wireless, recording, or otherwise,
or by any information or storage and retrieval system, without the prior permission of the copyright holder,
except where permitted by law.

Requests for permission to make copies of any part


of the work should be mailed to the publisher:

e-mail: piano.techno1@gmail.com

Printed in the United States of America

First Printing 2006

Second Edition 2007

Third Edition 2008

Fourth Edition 2009

Fifth Edition 2011


Acknowledgements
I do wish to thank the God of heaven, through Jesus Christ, for His love and mercy without
which none of this success could have been achieved; also, my wife Mary, the love of my life,
for her encouragement and assistance toward the completion of this project; the late
"irreplaceable piano technician" Jerry Pace, from whom I learned much during our association in
1970; Don Colaianni, former head of Colaianni Piano and Organ Co., the past Baldwin and
current Steinway Dealership in Little Rock, who gave my career a needed boost in the early
days; and Steve Witkowski, of International Piano Gallery, North Little Rock, who shot the
priceless cover photo of me and Paolo Fazioli, manufacturer of what many pianists and piano
technicians consider to be the finest quality grand piano in current worldwide production: the
Fazioli Pianoforti.

Bob Widding
January 2006
Contents
Cover: The author and Paolo Fazioli

1. Beginnings

2. Are you ready?

3. You are the product

4. Getting the referrals

5. Increasing your potential for success

6. Appointments that endure

7. Don't leave money on the table

8. Watch your bottom line

9. Consultation

10. Epilogue

11. Resources

12. The future of the industry

About the author

Illustrations and photos


CHAPTER ONE
Beginnings

It all started in 1982 when I decided to start tuning and repairing pianos on a part-time basis. I
had been in the advertising and marketing field for several years but had always wanted to get
into the music business. As a young man, in 1970, I had a stint working for a piano store in Little
Rock, Arkansas. While there, I found the work of a piano tuner to be fascinating as I observed
the artisan preparing instruments for the sales floor. And so, my hope was to get into the field of
piano service at some point in the future.

Having a family with children, I did as most men are compelled to do: find a job with a good
salary and benefits. Therefore, in 1971, I chose a career in advertising and marketing, ultimately
rising to the responsibility of National Advertising Manager for a statewide daily newspaper in
1988. Meanwhile, having been self-educated in piano technology, I continued servicing pianos
on a part-time basis mostly for friends and relatives. Later, I would earn my diploma.

As I grew weary of the stress that seems to accompany the field of advertising and marketing,
and my children having grown and left the house, I thought now was the time to go into this
endeavor in a large way. Therefore, in 1990, I resigned my position with the newspaper and
opened a full-time piano service business.

At the outset, I thought that my experience in advertising and marketing, in tandem with the
limited piano service experience I had acquired in the field, would make building a full-time
piano service business and selling it to the public fairly easy.

I was wrong.

I soon discovered that it can take years to build a customer base that is large enough from which
to earn a living. Meanwhile, waiting for the phone to ring, the finances suffered.

Ultimately, through both prayer and hard work, success was achieved even beyond my wildest
expectations!

My purpose in producing this book is to share with others the hard-learned lessons of building a
successful piano service business. I discovered along the way that one does not have to wait for
the phone to ring while personal finances take a dive. There are definitive steps one can take
initially that can make the process move expeditiously. This book will take you through these
steps, one by one. This proven strategy could work for you too!

On occasion, I have shared my strategy with other piano technicians. Upon hearing such, a tuner
once replied, "It won't work." Choosing not to follow my suggestions, his business ultimately
tanked. My business continues to grow, year by year.
CHAPTER TWO
Are you ready?

This book is not about learning how to either tune or service pianos. It is for those who already
have the technical skills and wish to grow into a successful business. However, if you are lacking
in the knowledge of the craft, we might briefly mention a few of the avenues that you can
explore: apprenticeship, self-teaching, school, and the piano factory.

APPRENTICESHIP

Many years ago, one of the most common ways to learn piano service was by apprenticeship.
Through this means, one could learn the trade from either a piano technician or a piano
rebuilding shop, and earn a wage at the same time. Many good technicians entered the field
through this method.

Today it is somewhat difficult to find an apprenticeship. At least it is in this part of the country.
Most independent technicians earn just enough income to support themselves. Opportunities to
learn the craft though a rebuilding shop are limited as most of the few good ones are typically
located in major U.S. markets, and in Europe. Moreover, as the rebuilding shop is really a mini-
factory, there could be drawbacks in the learning process. (See "The Piano Factory," below.)
However, in some parts of the country it may be possible to locate a qualified technician-mentor
to help guide you through the educational process. For a list of technicians in your area, consult
the PTG website in the resources chapter.

SELF-TEACHING

Some enter the field of piano service having been self-taught. They read all of the available
books, study videos, buy an old piano to work on, and in due course gain the expertise necessary
to tune and repair pianos. There are many excellent books and videos available, whereby one can
become self-taught. One such book is: Piano Tuning Servicing and Rebuilding by Arthur
Reblitz. A good series of instructional DVDs are available from International Piano Supply.

I have known good piano technicians who were self-taught. As a matter of fact, the best
technician in the state of Arkansas, now deceased, was self-taught and, since his demise, has
been virtually irreplaceable in the market.

SCHOOL

Some men and women elect to learn the trade from a reputable school. There are two avenues
here: the on-site school, and the correspondence school. Both may have advantages and
disadvantages. One of the more popular on-site schools is The North Bennett Street School. The
best correspondence school is probably The Randy Potter School. These institutions may be
found in the resources chapter.

The advantage to the on-site school is the practical structure and training that a classroom
environment can offer. The disadvantage is that some students cannot afford the substantial
monetary outlay, moving expense, and taking a year or two off work in order to attend classes.

The advantage to the correspondence school is that the art can be learned at one’s own speed and
in the comfort of home while maintaining current employment. The cost can also run
considerably less. And, provided the student has a decent piano to work on, the results can be the
same for him as for the individual who has attended an on-site school.

The disadvantage to the correspondence school is really one of perception. Some, both in and out
of the industry, frown on it and even denigrate those who have gone this route by employing
such bogeyman verbiage as "he learned from a mail order course."

I have known piano technicians who have been educated via the correspondence course method
as well as the on-site school. Of these, some are good, others are mediocre, and few are even
quite bad. Whichever of these educational paths you choose to follow, our experience has
revealed that the quality of work one does is wholly dependent upon the pursuit of excellence by
that individual, not necessarily by what means the knowledge was obtained.

The important thing is that you are ready professionally to go into a person's home or institution
and perform the work efficiently and intelligently. This will involve not only education, but also
countless hours, days and months tuning and repairing the various functions on your "learning
instrument" until you become proficient at it. Then, and only then, may you be ready to perform
service in the field.

Sadly, some who have gone into the field to perform piano service were not ready for the task.
They have left a trail of destruction in their wake: out-of-tune instruments, broken bass bridges,
scores of broken music wire, damage to pin block, and worse. Make this mistake also, and you
will ruin your reputation from the outset.

Who decides when one is ready for tuning in the field? If you fear making that judgment for
yourself, you could ask a piano dealer to make the determination. But exercise caution. Many
dealers are not really tuners. They may be able to recognize an instrument that is in relative tune,
but not one that is in fine tune. A better choice might be to have your work reviewed by a
longstanding and reputable piano technician in your area. Also, you could, as many do, sign up
for exams given by the Piano Technicians Guild (PTG). That is certainly a good start, as it will
provide testing in both tuning and repair.

The down side to all of this is that no particular educational path affords an absolute guarantee
that one will provide quality workmanship both for the present and the future. Ultimately, it is
the marketplace that shall determine whether or not you were ready. Therefore, make all of the
necessary preparations for fieldwork. I cannot emphasize this enough. Be completely equipped
for the challenge!
THE PIANO FACTORY

While the perception may be that factory training is really the best route to take, the reality could
be somewhat different. First of all, there are not many piano factories left in North America
wherein one can learn the trade. Secondly, if a man or a woman should be fortunate enough to
hire on at a piano factory, the chances are that he or she will be performing one, perhaps two,
jobs in the manufacturing process throughout their tenure. For example, a person who is hired to
tune pianos will be trained by the factory to tune pianos exclusively year in and year out.
Likewise, a person who is hired to voice hammers will be educated solely in voicing hammers.
While the factory employee can request a change of assignment from time to time, accordingly it
will take many years to learn the entire business. Therefore, the piano factory worker may indeed
become "trained," but only in certain areas of technology. The same could also hold true of one
attempting to learn the craft while employed at a piano rebuilding shop.

During the course of their careers, many independent tuners will attend factory-sponsored
seminars, and afterward may call themselves, "factory trained." Even though such learning is
extremely helpful, to say seminar attendance is the same as factory training may really be
stretching the truth of the matter.

To summarize: If you are looking toward opening a piano tuning and repair business, learning
the complete trade at a piano factory could take many years. However, once this has been
accomplished you would certainly have the required education and experience to proceed, and to
legitimately call yourself "factory trained."

CONTINUING EDUCATION

The Piano Technicians Guild (PTG) and their local chapters produce some excellent educational
materials, seminars and a monthly magazine, The Piano Technicians Journal, which can assist in
the vital continuing learning process.

The PTG web site address may be found in the resources chapter of this book.
CHAPTER THREE
You are the product

A few years ago, I learned of an enlightening experience that would forever shape my view
concerning how piano technicians should present themselves.

In a certain U.S. city, there were two piano technicians performing contract service for a piano
dealer. One day, the dealer called upon one of the technicians to go out on a service call to a
home where an older Yamaha grand piano required tuning. The technician showed up at the front
door looking like a refugee from the 1960s: long hair, a ponytail, bell-bottom jeans, and a
raggedy t-shirt. The customer let him in. He did the work, collected his fee, and then left.

Later that day, the piano store received a call from an irate customer. It was the same person who
had her piano tuned earlier that day. "This piano sounds horrible," she exclaimed! "I can hardly
play it," she lamented. "I don't want that guy touching my piano again!" The piano store
immediately contacted the other technician to go out to the woman's house and see what he could
do to make her happy.

He appeared at her front door wearing a sports jacket, tie, and slacks. When the woman answered
the door, she smiled, let him in, and proceeded to tell how horrible the piano sounded since the
tuner had worked on it earlier in the day. "It sounded better before he tuned it," she said. The
technician told her not to worry; it would be taken of. Upon that declaration, she left the room
and went about her business.

He sat down at the piano to check the tuning. It was perfect. All of the unisons, intervals, and
octaves were just right. "I could not have done better myself," he whispered. Notwithstanding, he
acted like he did something, and then asked the woman to return to the room, telling her that the
piano was now in order. "Thank you very much," she said, and the technician left.

Later, the customer called the piano store and complimented the fine work that the second
technician had wrought on her piano. "It sounds wonderful," she said. "May I have him for my
regular tuner?" she asked. "Certainly," replied the piano dealer.

So what was the problem with the first technician?

The problem was wholly in perception. The client could not believe that anyone who looked so
bad could do a decent job.

A customer's perception of a service person she lets into her home is all-important. The product
being sold is you! Therefore, you must present the appearance of a fine product that is both
properly packaged and sellable!

It is not necessary to wear either a suit or even a tie and sport coat. To look professional, a male
technician should simply dress accordingly: a clean, pressed shirt, nice slacks, and shoes that
shine. Believe it or not, I have read that a person's first impression of another is often based upon
how their shoes look.

Practice good hygiene, and have a decent haircut, too.

A woman technician does not have to wear a dress. In fact, a dress might be, at the very least,
inconvenient for the more involved piano service work. A nice pantsuit, or professional looking
pants, top, and shoes would be appropriate.

Regardless of gender, dress such as blue jeans and t-shirts are not a good idea. Remember, you
are not the plumber. You have been called in to work on an upscale instrument, often in a nice
home or institution. And many of these instruments are quite expensive, classy showpieces.

How we present ourselves also extends to the vehicle we drive. Do not show up in an old
clunker, as this is bad presentation. Your car or van does not have to be an expensive showboat.
A vehicle that is both presentable and clean is sufficient.

Through the implementation of these suggestions you shall convey to the customer that you are
competent and conscientious – a true professional. Eventually, you may even discover that you
can command higher prices for your services.
CHAPTER FOUR
Getting the referrals

When my business went full-time, I created an advertising program that I felt would draw
business. I had always believed that yellow pages advertising were ideally suited for the service-
oriented business. And, in most cases, it is. Thus, to this end, I spent a small fortune on display
ads in the yellow pages of Little Rock and surrounding communities.

Big mistake.

I would soon learn that most meaningful piano service business comes by way of referrals from
piano dealers, piano teachers, institutions, commercial concerns, and satisfied customers.

It is as if the responsible piano owner does not want to go blindly to the yellow pages in search
of a qualified piano tuner. Instead they will call, first and foremost, the piano store and ask for a
referral, much as they would call a good friend in seeking either a housekeeper or a physician.

Why does a customer utilize a referral instead of an advertisement? Remember, I am the product!
Accordingly, at the very least, before buying the product the potential client needs positive
reinforcement from someone who is highly esteemed – a person who has already both seen and
used the product.

Since most piano service business comes through referrals, my background in advertising would
not be too helpful. However, my auxiliary experience in sales and public relations would prove
invaluable.

It was not that calls were totally lacking from my yellow pages advertising. I did get a few. But
most of these calls were from individuals looking for the lowest price in town. This can be a
downward spiral that has no end.

AFFILIATING WITH THE PIANO DEALER

Initially, I didn't want to affiliate with a piano dealership because they only employ the services
of a piano tuner at wholesale. Since I did not want to work for half-price, I sat and waited for the
phone to ring day after day. Talk about long days! Some days the phone did not ring at all.

Finally I decided to talk to a reputable dealer and explore the possibilities. Yes, doing contract
floor tunings for half-price wouldn't be much fun. But at least some income would be coming
into the business. And there was a big bonus as well. I would soon discover that virtually all of
the call-ins for full price tunings and repairs would go to me. So, while I was doing half-price
tunings for the store itself, the call-ins would also come my way, and at full price. Moreover,
every time the piano store sold either a new or used unit, the buyer became one of my customers,
at half price for the first tuning (paid for by the dealer), and then full price for subsequent tunings
if he or she chose to be placed on my schedule. In addition, there was warranty work. Factory
defects had to be repaired, and this responsibility fell to me also.

How did I sell myself to the dealer? By presenting myself in a professional manner, listening to
his needs, knowing my subject, agreeing to his terms for remuneration, and, most importantly, by
servicing a few floor instruments to his satisfaction. It also didn't hurt that many piano dealers
have somewhat of a difficult time locating tuners willing to work for wholesale, and are willing
to jump at the opportunity to secure the services of one who does decent work.

By way of the piano store, I obtained business from piano teachers, colleges, the symphony, and
a multitude of pianists. All of this had a snowball effect as these satisfied customers begat more
customers.

I cannot overemphasize the importance of affiliating with a piano dealer when beginning your
business. It is a sure formula for success in the long run, as long as you do quality work.
Ultimately, you may even acquire so much business in the field, that you may no longer have
time to do wholesale work. However, wouldn't that be a good problem to have?

What if your proximity to the piano store is so far distant as to preclude you working for them as
their primary contract technician? I know of several piano technicians who fall into this category.
They live hours from Little Rock, where at least five major piano dealers operate. However,
problems often present new opportunities. You should contact all of the piano dealers in the State
and offer to do their service work in the geographical areas that are beyond their reach to service
with their own techs in a cost effective manner.

PRIVATE PIANO TEACHERS

In conclusion we offer a short word about obtaining referrals from the other sources we've
mentioned: piano teachers, institutions, commercial concerns, and satisfied customers.

If you are unable to affiliate with a piano store, the piano teacher may present some opportunity.
It is likely that most, if not all, of the piano educators in your area already use the best
technicians. Therefore, attempts on your part to wrest this business away from your competition
will be an exercise in futility. While there may be an occasional exception, virtually all teachers
will stay with their present technician. Don't even try to get the business by cutting your price. It
will not work, and you will only cheapen yourself and appear desperate.

Here is what you can do. Make the rounds to all of the piano teachers and introduce yourself.
Don't show up unannounced. Call and set up an appointment. How do you find them? Most
piano teachers do not advertise in the yellow pages. They operate largely from referrals.
However, piano dealers typically maintain a list of teachers in the State and you can ask for a
copy. Many of these educators frequent their stores too, which is another good reason to affiliate
with a piano dealer.

As piano teachers use the better piano technicians, it is likely that these service people are very
busy, even filled to the brim and overflowing with too much business. Accordingly, the teacher
may be looking for an additional technician to recommend to their students. Mention that you
have a few openings for new business and would be honored if some students were referred to
you.

If you should acquire a piano teacher for a client, do not discount the tuning or any of your basic
services. Once again, it'll only serve to cheapen you. Instead, offer to do gratis service calls for
minor issues such as sticking keys, sympathetic vibrations, et al. This is called "value adding"
your service. I've found that it works quite well as teachers truly appreciate the peace of mind
that comes with the knowledge that the tech isn't going to nickel and dime them to death with
service calls to correct minor issues.

INSTITUTIONS

The same principle we've mentioned with regard to the private teacher holds true also for
institutional work. Whether you are approaching either a college music department or a music
director, these are professional people who are usually satisfied with their present technician.
However, they can be a source of referrals from students, as in the case of the former, as well as
choir members, et al., as in the case of the latter.

Institutions that can be wrested from your competition are public educational facilities. Some
public schools and colleges obtain piano service through the bidding process. Yes, that's right.
It's a "who has the lowest price," thing. Find out which institutions in your area require the
bidding process, and throw your hat into the ring. Be prepared to bid low, near or even below
wholesale. In your effort to win the bid you can consider value adding your service (e.g. cleaning
the grand pianos at no extra charge), but such may not change the result unless the bidding form
specifically asks for the service. Why would you want this type of discounted business?
Referrals! It's just that simple.

COMMERCIAL CONCERNS

Another area wherein to obtain business and, hence, referrals, is in the commercial realm: the
performing arts programs such as the symphony, recital halls, concert halls, and recording
studios; also hotels, restaurants, country clubs, nursing homes, retirement centers, television
stations, cruise ships, women's clubs and the list goes on. Whereas the performing arts programs
may fall into the same category as piano teachers and institutions – namely they already use the
better technicians – the others may not and are, accordingly, fair game!

THE SATISFIED CUSTOMER

This will be discussed at length in chapter six.


CHAPTER FIVE
Increasing your potential for success

In establishing yourself as a professional in the market, an important tool to utilize is the


complimentary public seminar. This usually works best if produced under the sponsorship of a
piano dealer. The dealer will have the wherewithal to facilitate such an endeavor: space for
seating, instruments for "show and tell," money to advertise in both newspaper and invitations, a
mailing list of prospects to draw from, assistance in producing handout materials, and
refreshments.

My favorite seminar theme is: How to Buy a Good Used Piano. Using your knowledge of the
instrument, you can take the students step-by-step through the process of selection. Nothing too
deep, just an overview of things they can look for in order to "test" what they see and to
eliminate the obvious bad apples that could cost bundles of cash to repair. Then, having done so,
they can call on their piano technician to conduct a thorough examination of the one or two
instruments to which they have narrowed the purchasing decision. Of course, you charge for the
evaluation.

The "test" I provide for them is simple. It doesn't require special tools; just careful inspection:

1. Avoid pianos with major oxidation on the tuning pins and music wire. This is symptomatic of
the piano being too long in a damagingly humid environment. Moreover, the timbre will not be
satisfactory.

2. Examine the soundboard. If there are cracks, this could be indicative of the instrument being
too long in damagingly extreme climate. Avoid this one also.

3. Look for deep groves in the hammers. This could be symptomatic of a worn out action.
Another one to eschew.

4. Examine the harp for cracks, especially in the general area of the tuning pins. If found, avoid
this piano utterly.

5. Play the chromatic scale – all 88 keys. If any one note sounds like two concurrently (as a
whole and half step together), this could be symptomatic of a bad pin block, bridge, or both. Pass
on this one too.

This seminar may also be presented to the piano teachers. They are often asked to help in the
selection of used instruments for their students. Accordingly, this information would be useful to
them as well.

Introductory remarks to such a seminar are important. You must get the attention of the
audience. The following remarks worked well for me:

"Good evening everyone, and thank you for taking time out of your busy day to be with us. At
the outset, please let me relate a personal experience to you that will demonstrate quite clearly
why we issued the invitation.

"A few years ago, I was called out to tune a piano in Jacksonville, Arkansas. Upon arrival, I
found the piano to be quite attractive. It was an older instrument, but the furniture case had been
well cared for.

"However, when I examined the piano prior to tuning – I usually do so with older instruments – I
found that the piano could not be serviced. It had cracked bridges, virtually all action elbows
broken, music wire broken, and worse! I had to inform the customer that the piano could only be
tuned if very expensive repairs were effected. So expensive, in fact, that such would exceed the
value of the piano. I estimated the fair market value of the piano – in good condition – to be
around $1,200. The cost of repairs would have far exceeded this.

"Here is the really sad part. The customer paid over $2,000 for the piano. Why? Because of
'confidence in the estate sale person.'

"Who wants to invest a total of well over $3,200 – the cost of a new piano – into an instrument
that, only when repaired, would be worth $1,200? No one, I hope.

"And so, ladies and gentlemen, this is why we have invited you here this evening; that such a
similar disaster might not befall you. We truly have your best interest at heart"

In your presentation, speak to the group in conversational style, using an opened piano as a
visual aid. Proceed slowly. Do not read to them. Have a questions and answers session upon
conclusion.

HOW TO SELL THE IDEA TO THE PIANO STORE

Why should a piano store go through all of this time and expense just to educate the public?
Prospects might take this information and buy a used piano on the private market instead.

Good question. I've got an even better answer.

Yes, as a result of the seminar, and armed with this information, some prospects bought on the
private market. However, even more bought used pianos from the dealer. Moreover, the seminar
had an unintended benefit. Some bought new instruments from the store. Why is this? Because
once the prospect realized both the complexities of piano technology and the potential problems
that might ensue from acquiring a used instrument, a new piano was purchased instead!
Add to this all the goodwill and exposure created in the marketplace by both dealer and
technician through placing such emphasis on good education as a requisite to purchasing a
product. It was a win-win.

A suggested invitation appears below in the illustrations chapter

ANOTHER SEMINAR

Another seminar we presented was: How to Achieve Tuning Stability. This production was also
sponsored by a piano store and conducted by me, but it was principally for piano teachers.
However, such an effort could also be directed toward other piano owners as well.

Dampp-Chaser© a manufacturer of humidity control systems for pianos, has all of the sales and
informational material you'll need for such an endeavor, much of which is gratis. A suggested
handout is in the illustrations chapter.

TO SUMMARIZE

By conducting educational seminars you will establish yourself in the market as a professional
and increase your visibility before both piano educators and the buying public. Furthermore, you
will become a valuable asset to the piano dealer. Many will look to you for guidance in all areas
of piano technology. Ultimately, this should translate into more business for you.
CHAPTER SIX
Appointments that endure

Professional management of the appointment provides the key to a successful piano tuning and
repair business. We've discussed how to go about getting referrals. How do you hold on to them
once these become appointments?

Let's go step-by-step through a successful procedure for handling a typical first-time


appointment. (For the repeat customer simply adapt accordingly.)

You have received the referral and now you've arrived at the customer's home. My comments
concerning the dialog are in black type.

Piano Tech: "Good morning Mrs. Smith, I'm Bob. I'm here to service your piano. It's nice to
meet you."

Never address a customer by his or her first name. A formal address denotes respect. Smile, and
act pleased to be there.

Customer: "It's nice to meet you too. Thanks for being on time. How are you?"

Punctuality is vital. The customer has a schedule to keep also. For this reason, small talk is fine,
but do not engage in lengthy conversation. Keep comments about you exceedingly limited.
Instead, ask relevant questions and focus on the customer's needs. Listen carefully. You'll learn
more from listening than you will by talking.

Piano Tech: "I'm doing great thanks!"

Allow the customer to lead you to the piano.

Customer: "Oh, I forgot to take my things off the piano."

Piano Tech: "That's okay. I'm happy to do this for you."

Some customers will help with this; others will not. Take great care not to break anything.
Acquire business liability insurance if you feel such is necessary.

Piano Tech: "Do you have a child taking piano lessons?"

Customer: "Well, yes, but she's taking some time off right now. There are too many school
activities at the moment. But we still want to keep her piano tuned."
Piano Tech: "I understand. Well, when she's ready for her piano, it will be ready for her. Other
than tuning, are there any problems with the instrument?"

Customer: "No, I don't think so."

Be prepared to discuss problems if such should be mentioned. Know your subject (i.e., piano
technology) well.

Piano Tech: "Well, I'll check it as I go, just to be sure. I'll get it in good shape for you."

Customer: "Thanks!" "Would you like something to drink?"

Piano Tech: "No thanks, but thank you for your hospitality."

Drinking a beverage while working is an accident waiting to happen. Graciously decline.

Customer: "You're welcome."

At this point some technicians, wishing to impress a customer, will tune on an instrument for
three hours. Though well intentioned this, I believe, is a mistake for three reasons: working the
music wire more than needed can increase the risk of breakage; the customer often has a
schedule to maintain; and some do not like listening to the tuning process. Do a good job, but do
not take all morning to tune the instrument.

When you've finished tuning, play the instrument for a few minutes. The customer will view this
as a sign of professionalism. No honky-tonk! Play something smooth and relaxing. Over the
years, I've had many tell me that listening to my playing is one of the main reasons they have me
into their home twice annually. If you do not play piano, I would suggest that you learn at least
one simple piece. A piano teacher can assist you with this.

Piano Tech: "I'm finished."

Customer: "Okay, I'll be right in."

Customer: "Thank you for playing. It always sounds so good after you tuned it."

Piano Tech: "You're welcome. You have a good piano – a pleasure to play."

Some instruments you service are not really "good." Notwithstanding, try to find something
about the piano that you can compliment. If you cannot think of anything, then simply say "thank
you."

Customer: "How much do I owe you?"

Piano Tech: "It's $__ dollars. Would you like to write a check, or should I leave a bill?"
Use your own judgment here. Many institutional and commercial clients may require billing.
Individuals usually do not. Most individuals will write a check on-site. Some may ask for billing.
I do a lot of billing to both types of customers. Rarely have I written off any to bad debt.
Typically I leave a bill with them. This saves time and avoids postage costs. I think the important
thing is to be as accommodating as possible. Be easy to do business with, not difficult.

Customer: "I'll write you a check."

Wait for the customer to complete writing and logging the check before you say anything further.
After being handed the check, proceed as follows:

Piano Tech: "In order for your piano to sound good all year long it will require tuning at least
twice annually. Due to frequent changes in relative humidity, pianos in this part of the country
only hold a tune for about six months. I am now scheduling appointments for_____ [six month
from today.] What day of the week would you like, and do you prefer mornings or afternoons."

Now we're getting into "Selling 101." This type of question is known as "closing the sale." In
phrasing your question, it is vital that you state the benefit (your piano will sound good), create a
sense of urgency (I'm now scheduling appointments), and that you assume the sale. Do not
phrase the question: "May I set you up for six month hence?" Instead, ask your question in such
a way as to assume that the customer has already agreed to future service; you're just ironing out
the details.

After you asked the closing question, be silent. Do not utter one word until the customer
responds. If the customer responds in the positive, then place the client on your regular schedule
by presenting an appointment card specifying the month, day, year and time, and note it on your
appointment book. If the answer is in the negative, simply write a reminder date on the card as to
when you should be called for the next tuning. You may also call the client when the time comes.
If you do not have openings, then place on a waiting list. Such may serve as an incentive to the
client to be included on your regular schedule in the future! (A suggested appointment card
appears in the illustrations chapter.)

More on "Selling 101" later!

By asking for future business at this time, and filling out an appointment card, you establish
yourself as a professional. "Oh, you're just like my doctor," many will say. You'll also have
demonstrated that you have their best interests at heart: maintaining a well-sounding piano, and
placing them on your schedule so they do not have to remember when to call. (You should also
call a day in advance of the appointment to remind them.)

Through this method you'll acquire repeat business – appointments that endure! Ultimately, if
handled correctly, your schedule should fill up months in advance.

Piano Tech: "Thank you. I do not foresee any problems, but should you have any, please call
me."
Before you leave it is important to acknowledge that even though you do not foresee a problem
with the piano, sometimes one will arise. Assure the client that, in such an event, you'll take care
of it with all speed.

Remember, satisfied customers will be a major source for meaningful referrals of new business.
Treat them well and it will pay dividends for years to come.

HANDLING CALLBACKS

Usually I leave a very satisfied customer. However, on rare occasion I do receive a complaint
after the service: a key is sticking, a note doesn't sound right, or a sympathetic vibration is
manifesting itself.

Upon receiving the call, I apologize to the customer and express how glad I am for the receiving
the concern. And, I really am glad. The last thing I want a dissatisfied customer to do is call my
competition with the complaint.

I do not charge for callbacks. Even if the problem is unrelated to the tuning, I take care of it,
gratis. Why do I handle it in this manner? Because in most cases I should have recognized the
problem (or at least the potential for one) either prior to tuning or before I left the home, and
informed my customer of further needs. I want a happy customer. I never argue. In such a case I
may win the argument, but lose the business.

Always be forthright. Keep your clients informed. If the piano requires service over and above
the tuning, advise, if possible, at the outset. If, in your judgment, the instrument will not hold its
tune for the usual six months cycle, then share this assessment, along with your rationale, as to
why more frequent service is needed. A client who knows what to expect is less likely to get
caught by surprise and suspect that the piano technician is at fault.
CHAPTER SEVEN
Don’t leave money on the table

In a successful piano tuning and repair business it is important that you offer a complete field
service. Do not be a tuner only. You will severely limit your income potential. Moreover, you
may need to repair an instrument before tuning can be effected.

After tuning the instrument, don't "leave money on the table." This is an old sales expression that
means to be certain you offer your client other services that the instrument might need. Don't
hard sell! This is a fatal error that can prevent you from being invited back. Offer other services
as suggestions only. And be totally honest.

My business is exclusively on-site. And so, I have with me at all times the parts, supplies and
tools necessary to make repairs to functions such as:

1. Broken music wire. (Bass wire may have to be ordered, but you should carry a complete set of
Universals for emergencies.)

2. Broken agraffes.

3. Action/Damper failures of all types. (Here, a factory part may have to be ordered, but you
should also carry generic parts so that, at the very least, a temporary repair may be effected.)

4. Pedal and Lyre problems.

5. Locating and deleting sympathetic vibrations.

6. Voicing issues.

7. Key Repair

Should the client be experiencing problems with tuning stability, you should be knowledgeable
and articulate with respect to the reasons for this problem, and the possible solutions. Be
prepared to discuss the benefits of the complete humidity control systems for both upright and
grand pianos. Because these systems are to some extent individualized, you may have to place an
order. For those customers who already have systems, you should have in stock all of the
necessary items to perform routine maintenance: humidifier pads and chemical.

I will have more to say about humidity control systems as a profit center for the technician in a
moment.

Action regulation/voicing is one of the best sources of additional revenue for the on-site
technician, but it is also the most neglected. Why is this the case? I believe it is due to the service
person never suggesting such. Yet, once effected, the pianist will enjoy the benefit of improved
performance, and will thank you for doing it. (A suggested handout appears in the illustrations
chapter.)

Another good profit center is the piano appraisal. Often, prospects will require your services to
evaluate a used piano they're considering either buying or selling. In his two books, The Piano
Book, and Annual Supplement to The Piano Book, author Larry Fine provides all of the
information necessary to produce a professional appraisal. You should acquire both of these
works. His web site is listed in the resources chapter.

When producing an appraisal, I prefer the "new replacement cost less depreciation method."
Simply determine the manufacturer's current suggested retail price (MSRP) of the instrument, or
in the case of obsolescence, one that is similar, and then depreciate according to age and
condition. (A suggested outline appears in the illustrations chapter. New piano prices on the
www can be found in our chapter on resources.)

Some technicians offer complimentary cleaning of the technical for customers who own grand
pianos. While I have done this gratis work on occasion – for piano teachers as a value-added
item – I have also discovered that this service can command a price when offered to the non-
professional. Use your own judgment. What we do in the marketplace may, to some extent, be
dictated by how stiff the competition happens to be. However, this can be another profit center as
well.

BACK TO SELLING 101

How do you sell a piano-related service to a customer? In order to sell successfully, the
salesperson must answer three vital questions: Why buy the product? Why buy from me? Why
buy today?

With regard to the first question, let us first examine the difference between features and
benefits. Perhaps the best way to draw a distinction is to relate a story told to me many years ago.

Once there was a man who went into a hardware store in search of an eighth inch drill bit.
Arriving at the appropriate rack, he found a great item. It was shinny-new, enclosed in a clear
protective case, and the cutting tip was made from tungsten carbide bonded to a spiraled steel
shaft. A top quality product!

Totally satisfied, he took the item from the rack and made the purchase.

Now, you're probably thinking that this gentleman went to the hardware store to buy an eighth
inch drill bit. However, if you believe this you would be wrong. He really did not want the bit at
all. What did he want? He wanted an eighth inch hole!

Herein is the difference between features and benefits. Features are that which make a product
what it is: how it's constructed, the materials used in manufacturing and so on. Just like the drill
bit: shiny, tungsten carbide, steel shaft. All are important factors relating to quality, and,
therefore, certainly an issue when it comes to consumers making a purchasing decision with
regard to which brand or style to buy.

However, it is the benefit of a product, instead of the product itself, which the consumer actually
buys. The man didn't buy a drill bit. He bought an eighth inch hole! He bought what the item
could do for him.

With this in view, let's discuss selling the Dampp-Chaser® humidity control system.

Its features are: state of the art science in humidity control, quality workmanship, low
maintenance, visually non-obtrusive, energy efficient, good warranty, ideal for the piano as
opposed to room systems, and the list goes on. It can also be professionally installed on-site.

What are the benefits? What will the product actually do for the piano owner? What is really
being purchased?

One particular benefit is this: By stabilizing the expansion and contraction of wood, the complete
system enhances tuning stability so that the pianist sounds great for the duration between
tunings. And the action can be more responsive thus creating a better touch and improving the
pianist's performance. What is being purchased is the enjoyment of playing a piano that sounds
great, feels wonderful, and thereby better touches the emotions with a sense of fulfillment.

When selling a Dampp-Chaser® System to a client, by all means cover the many features of the
product. Address in a positive way, why this product is better than the alternatives. This will
answer the first question: "Why buy the product?" However, in so doing, great emphasis should
also be placed upon the benefits. This is what the customer is really buying.

The second question - "Why buy from me?" - may be answered by presenting yourself in a
professional manner, asking relevant questions, listening to the client's needs, and manifesting
good product knowledge. A prospect is more likely to buy from one who really understands the
product. It instills the level of confidence necessary for a person to make the purchase.

And so, the following is a suggested closing-the-sale question. It states the benefit and also
answers the third question: "Why buy today?"

"Your piano can commence both sounding and feeling better, and for longer (the benefits), by
next week (buy today!). Would you like the system either with or without the feature indicating
when the humidifier pads need to be changed?"

Remember: You must ask for the order. Virtually all lost sales are a result of not asking for it.

Never ask a closing question that simply requires either a "yes" or "no" answer from the
prospect. Phrase your closing question in such a manner as to assume the sale; as if they've
already bought and you're just ironing out the details. Then do not utter one word until the
customer has answered. If you are presented with further questions about the system, do not
despair. These are actually "buying signals." By these, the prospect is implying that he or she is
very interested and will purchase if you can answer satisfactorily. Answer the questions, and then
ask for the order again, rephrasing your closing question:

"You can enjoy the benefit of a better timbre between regular tunings beginning as early as next
week. Which system would you like?"

WHAT TO CHARGE

How to price your services may be dependent upon several factors including: what the market
will bear, your competition's pricing, and precisely what niche in the market you are attempting
to fill.

Here is the rationale to my current pricing. My business is 100% referral. I receive no customers
from the yellow pages. My appointment calendar is always full – usually six months out – often
with a waiting list. With such a dedicated client base, I could charge the highest prices in town.
But I do not. I charge reasonable rates for technical services, basic tunings and pitch corrections.

Presently, basic tuning fees in the Greater Little Rock market range from a low of about $55 to a
high of $125. Typically, my fee is usually just barely under the high. My hourly labor rate is the
same. I feel comfortable at that level. I do not wish to be known as the most expensive. Yet I do
desire to create the perception that my work is good. I certainly do not wish to be known as the
cheapest.

Ultimately, you must be the judge of how to price your services. I would caution against pricing
your services too low. The perception may be created thereby that your work is not of good
quality. On the other hand, don't price yourself so high as to discourage the semi-annual and
quarterly repeat business that is vital to business growth.

If you do quality work and present yourself in the most professional manner in knowledge,
appearance and speech, then you should be able to command prices on the higher side of the
spectrum.
CHAPTER EIGHT
Watch your bottom line

I am not an accountant. Therefore, my comments in this section will be brief.

In order for any business to remain profitable, the proprietor must pay attention to the bottom
line. Accordingly, keeping expenses down and paying as little tax as possible, legally, are
certainly two areas to focus upon.

With regard to the former, I would offer the following suggestions:

Use your home for the base of operations. Only if you are going into major piano rebuilding
should you consider opening a shop.

Do not use an answering service. This is typically too expensive. Instead, use a cell phone with a
voice mailbox.

Avoid like the plague unnecessary advertising. You'll spend yourself into the poorhouse. If
you're going for the low dollar business, then a display ad presence in the yellow pages may be
needed and that will run into considerable expense. You'll need a lot of volume to sustain this
approach.

As mentioned earlier, my business is the higher dollar referral type. Therefore, I usually have
only a lightface yellow pages listing: name and phone number only. It's the least amount in terms
of cost. In 2006, I shan't have even that.

The only advertising I use presently is an ad in the Music Teachers Association Yearbook. To
place an ad, check with your local piano dealer for the contact person. Also, a minimal patronage
listing in your local symphony or performing arts program is good as well. Usually these run
very low cost: $50 more or less. A sample ad for the teachers yearbook appears in the last
chapter.

With respect to minimizing your tax liability, we would suggest that you contact a CPA and
discuss the many advantages of incorporation, if you have not already done so. You may reach a
point as a sole proprietor where your business income is high enough to justify a good amount of
tax savings through incorporating.

By the time I looked into incorporating, about $3,000 in unnecessary taxes had been paid. It was
a done deal. I couldn't get it back. That amount of savings would have made the bottom line look
a whole lot better.
So don't wait too long. Explore the benefits of incorporation. Try to locate a CPA who is a one-
man (or woman) operation, instead of a large accounting firm. You may save money by doing
so.
CHAPTER NINE
Consultation

In such an endeavor is this, it is difficult to address all possible avenues of creating a successful
piano service business. Not all markets are precisely the same. No two piano technicians are
alike. No two customers have the same level of expectation.

You may also wish to discuss privately your own ideas for business growth that either I have not
covered, or that I haven't considered. No doubt, as you proceed, you will have questions.

In an effort to fill this need, we do provide a consultation service. Please e-mail:

Bob Widding

piano.techno1@gmail.com

If, for some reason, I am unavailable you should contact your local chapter of the Piano
Technicians Guild.
CHAPTER TEN
Epilogue

If a one-man field operation can experience phenomenal success in virtually the lowest per capita
income State in the U.S., and with no discounting, just think what it could do in an upscale area!
Furthermore, what if I decided to train a couple of employees and re-open a rebuilding shop? I
can't even begin to tell you how many referrals for rebuilding I send elsewhere.

And so, the possibilities for even more future growth are tremendous.

It is my hope that the suggestions set forth herein will set you on the road to financial
profitability. It is a suggested marketing strategy that could work for you as well.

In conclusion, allow me to offer one final suggestion. In order to be successful in the piano
service business, it requires 100% focus on the goal. I have known a few technicians who never
achieved quite the success in piano service of which they . Why is this? It is because they
divided their focus by moonlighting in other endeavors – usually as musicians. When focus
becomes divided, neither effort really attains success. If you wish to be truly successful, you
must give piano service your undivided attention. Anything short of this may result in
disappointment.
CHAPTER ELEVEN
Resources

The following is a list of works and companies cited herein. Websites may be found through
Internet search. Please report dead links.

1. Piano Tuning, Servicing and Rebuilding by Arthur Reblitz.


The best volume on piano service and rebuilding extant.

2. The Piano Book by Larry Fine.


Invaluable book on pianos and their manufacturers.

3. The Piano Technicians Guild (PTG).


An ongoing source of education and resources for the piano technician.

4. Dampp-Chaser® Piano Humidity Control Systems.


Complete climate control systems for pianos. Without equal.

5. The Randy Potter School of Piano Technology


The most comprehensive piano technology correspondence school in the world.

6. The North Bennett Street School.


Considered by many to be among the very best on-site piano technology schools.

7. International Piano Supply.


Piano parts, supplies and videos.

8. The Blue Book of New Piano Prices


Great source for new piano prices when doing appraisals.
Other useful resources are:

9. Schaff Piano Supply.


Largest selection of piano parts and supplies anywhere.

10. Pianotek Supply Company.


Known for their highly specialized piano tools and supplies.

11. Colaianni Piano Company


Baldwin dealer for over 40 years. Now Steinway.

12. International Piano Gallery


Largest showroom in the South. Fine pianos from the world over.

13. Piano Forte Supply


www.pianofortesupply.com
Unique supplier of fine European parts, tools and supplies.

14. Piano World Forums


www.pianoworld.com
Forum discussions amongst piano technicians.

15. Decals Unlimited


www.decalsunlimited.com
Largest selection of decals for fallboard and soundboard in the world. Easy application.
CHAPTER TWELVE
The future of the industry

The future of the piano service industry is good. Notwithstanding the entrance of digitals into the
market, there is no shortage of pianos that require tuning, voicing, regulation and repair. Good
techs have a full appointment calendar.

Some have expressed concern about the inevitable mass production of the self-tuning or
automatic-tuning piano. This electronic system works on the principle of heating and cooling
piano wire to change pitch. Once it becomes available to piano owners it is feared that the
services of the piano tech will no longer be needed.

Nothing could be further from the truth.

First of all, whether traditional or self-tuning, pianos also require regulation, voicing, repair et al.
Furthermore, the self-tuning piano will need maintenance. Accordingly, it will be another profit
center for enterprising techs who may wish to install these systems for both the dealer and for
customers in the field.

The pianist cannot have discourse with the self-tuning piano. Those with average to high
expectations will still want to have a live tech on site to service their instruments and address
concerns as well. Virtually all pianists cannot tell if a problem is either tuning related or a
voicing issue. The self-tuning piano will not be able to answer this and other similar questions.

Tuning pins are not turned under this system. Unless the problem of continuous tension upon
stationary pins is addressed at the manufacturing level, I am not sure that many tech will even
recommend these systems to their clients. No doubt, piano dealers will sell these under the
pretext that no tuning is required. Wise techs will advise clients that the pins require regular
turning lest the pinblock be damaged.

The age-old debate between sales and service will continue.


About the Author

Bob and Mary Widding.

Bob Widding studied classical piano privately under Dr. Marcelline Giroir, Sr (a pupil of harpsichordist Wanda
Landowska). He holds a diploma in piano technology and has prepped performance pianos during numerous seasons
for: The Arkansas Symphony Orchestra under maestro David Itkin, The Chamber Society of Little Rock, The
Arkansas Chamber Singers, Wildwood Park for the Performing Arts, and the Little Rock Coterie; locally for a wide
range of artists including: Alicia De Larrocha, Peter Nero, Dave Brubeck, Marvin Hamlish, Lee Luvisi, Misha
Dichter, Ellis Marsalis, Ramsey Lewis, and many others. For accompanists to: Midori, Jessye Norman, Pete
Fountain and many others; and Institutions: University of Louisiana at Monroe, Harding University, Henderson
State University, Ouachita Baptist University; Piano Dealers: Steinway, Fazioli, Kawai, Mason & Hamlin, Petrof
and Baldwin; and piano teachers and clients throughout Central Arkansas.

He worked in advertising and marketing for 20 years, first as an account executive with The Pine Bluff Commercial
(1971-1973), and later at The Arkansas Gazette (1973-1990), the statewide metro daily, where he was an account
executive in both classified and retail advertising, major accounts specialist, and National Advertising Manager.

Bob has been a piano technician for 28 years. He is now retired.


Illustrations and photos
A suggested handout for a tuning stability
Ad in the Central Arkansas Teachers Association Yearbook
A suggested handout advertising regulation and voicing
Invitation to a "How to Buy a Piano" Seminar
A professional appointment card
NOTES
Suggested outline of an appraisal
NOTES
Working in the showroom (top right).
NOTES
The author with Mr. Fazioli examining crown on an older Steinway D.
We determined that the board was flat.
NOTES
Paolo Fazioli playing his Fazioli Pianoforti
NOTES
Paolo Fazioli with the author, Bob Widding
NOTES
The first piano.
Invented byBartolomeo Cristofori.
Photo taken at the
Metropolitan Museum of Art
NY, NY.
Copyright © 2009 by Robert K. Widding and Mary J. Widding.

All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means,
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except where permitted by law.

Requests for permission to make copies of any part


of the work should be mailed to the publisher:

e-mail: piano.techno1@gmail.com

Printed in the United States of America

First Printing 2006

Second Edition 2007

Third Edition 2008

Fourth Edition 2009

Fifth Edition 2011


FINIS.